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Rules of engagement: 5 takeaways for research impact from the award-winning ASPIRES project

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 July 2019

 

Tatiana Souteiro Dias and Emily Macleod

Collaboration with individuals and organisations beyond academia for the benefit of society is an increasingly important part of research teams’ activities. But how can academics achieve this when there are so many competing priorities? For Professor Louise Archer, Principal Investigator of the ASPIRES/ASPIRES 2 project – who received the 2019 ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize Panel’s Choice Award this week – investing time and effort in building long-term relationships based on trust and respect is one of the answers.

The multiple award winning team of ASPIRES, a longitudinal research project studying young people’s science and career ambitions from age 10 to 19, shared their successful impact strategies as part of the first IOE Impact Meet-up, a new series of workshops bringing together experts, doctoral students and early career researchers from the IOE to discuss how to make authentic impact a key (more…)

Just what is ‘evidence-based’ teaching? Or ‘research-informed’ teaching? Or ‘inquiry-led’ teaching?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital23 March 2017

Lesley Saunders
It is by virtue of being an artist that the teacher is a researcher’ (Lawrence Stenhouse): deepening the connections between research and teaching
I’ve long campaigned for teaching to be a research-engaged profession, on the grounds that, as the brilliant scholar Jean Rudduck put it: ‘research leads teachers back to the things that lie at the heart of their professionalism: pupils, teaching and learning’. John Elliott, an equally distinguished thinker, provides a convincing rationale: ‘the structures of knowledge into which students are to be inducted are intrinsically problematic and contestable, and therefore objects of speculation’ – and consequently teachers have a responsibility to “model” how to treat knowledge as an object of inquiry.’
With the launch of the independent Chartered College of Teaching last month – an organisation by and for teachers to support ‘evidence informed practice’ – this seems a good time to examine what all this means.
Perhaps, though, I ought to start by doing a bit of ground-clearing around definitions. I think the notions of ‘evidence-based’, ‘research-informed’ or ‘inquiry-led’ teaching – (more…)

Academics' ability to lobby government under threat from new funding clause

Blog Editor, IOE Digital25 February 2016

Peter Scott.
There are growing worries in universities that restrictions on the use of public money to lobby the government, initially focused on charities, may have a chilling effect on the independence of publicly funded research. Whether this is ministers’ intention is an open question.
In mid-February, the government announced that a new clause will be inserted into new and renewed grant agreements from May 1, forbidding recipients from “using taxpayer funds to lobby government and parliament”. As well as covering grants to charities to carry out services, this also covers those “funding research and development”.
Pessimists, and conspiracy theorists, discern a pattern of the government displaying alarming authoritarian instincts. Ministers do not seem to recognise the need for (more…)

New research centre will help UK become thought leader in the vital HE sector

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 May 2015

Simon Marginson‌ 
In October 2015 the doors of a major new Economic and Social Research Council-supported research centre will open at UCL IOE. It will be the largest centre in the world that is focused on research in relation to higher education.
Higher education (HE) systems are now more important in societies and economies than they have ever been. The role of professional and skilled labour in the workforce is expanding everywhere, and while graduate salaries are falling relative to average incomes, graduates maintain their advantage over non graduates. This drives the continued growth of higher education enrolments everywhere, so that one third of all people in the world now enrol in some form of tertiary education. Participation in two-year programmes and degree programmes together is increasing at a rate of 1 per cent a year. At first sight this may not seem much, but it is extraordinarily rapid by historical standards, lifting the proportion of the population with tertiary education (more…)

Research excellence: getting better all the time – or is it?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital19 December 2014

Simon Marginson
Research assessment is only partly reliable as an indicator of the real quality of the work going on in higher education. It has a dual character. On one hand it is rooted in material facts and objective methods. Strong research quality and quantity should be and are rewarded in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF), the results of which have just been published.
But the outcome is also shaped by the universities that select and fashion data for competitive purposes and the subject area panels that define research judged to be outstanding on a global scale.
Total research activity can never be fully captured in performance data. Some things, such as citations in top journals, are easier to measure than (more…)

Higher education’s X-Factor: everything you always wanted to know about the REF

Blog Editor, IOE Digital16 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Imagine – if you do not work in a UK university – a cross between the Olympics, the X-factor and a visit from Father Christmas. That will give you some – some – idea of the REF (the Research Excellence Framework), and its importance in academic life. The results of REF2014 are published this week. Around the country, vice-chancellors, pro-vice-chancellors for research, deans, heads of department will be looking anxiously – not just at their own results, but at their competitors. As Gore Vidal famously put it: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail”.
Research funding matters enormously to government, and to universities. For government, it is how new knowledge is generated, new science supported, innovations which will eventually strengthen national competitiveness developed. For universities, research is the lifeblood, motivating
academics and defining their purpose.
In the UK, the bulk of research funding is offered competitively, through bidding to research councils and charities, but the research infrastructure is funded through a grant – now called ‘QR’ (quality-related) funding. This system was developed in the 1980s; with public spending under pressure, (more…)

Is research evidence informing government policy in education?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital10 December 2014

David Gough
Recently there has been increased interest in the use of evidence from research studies to inform policy making by government. This research evidence can be of many types. It can include empirical findings on things such as educational attainment, and evidence of effectiveness (‘what works’) of different strategies (such as how to teach phonics). It can also include explanations of how things work and how the world can be understood. Research is of course not the only thing that can influence policy (more…)

EPPSE: striking a blow for evidence-informed policy and practice

Blog Editor, IOE Digital6 October 2014

Diane Hofkins 
In the early 1990s, it was still possible for Ministers to argue that early-childhood education was a luxury the taxpayer couldn’t afford. Although Britain’s best nurseries were renowned and studied round the world, there was little empirical evidence demonstrating their concrete, ongoing benefits for children. For most families, meanwhile, a mixed bag of pre-school provision was on offer via a classic postcode lottery.
By 1997, with a General Election looming, the Conservative Government had begun a substantial programme of nursery investment and regulation. The Effective Provision of Pre-school Education project was commissioned to find out what types of provision and early experiences were most effective. (more…)

Election silly season: is research an ornament, a luxury good or ammunition in a war?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital12 September 2014

Chris Brown
As with many things in our Western consumer culture, research use may be conceived as an act of consumption. Correspondingly, research is often treated by its users as they would a consumer object, much like a coffee maker or television. In the case of educational policy making the research ‘consumer object’ seems to represent one of two perspectives; it is either viewed as a luxury item – with high use value and prestige, or its use is limited and it is primarily employed, much as we employ sparkly trinkets, to distract attention. (more…)

Understanding impact: what does it actually mean?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital9 May 2014

Chris Husbands 
Research changes lives. Somewhere along the way, every research project involves a question which is about making a difference to the way people think, behave or interact. In applied social science – the field in which the IOE excels – research sets out to understand, shape and change the world around us.
The idea of research ‘impact’ has become important in research management and funding. Universities are now held to account for the impact of their research, not least through the Research Excellence Framework. But ideas about ‘impact’ and how to secure it vary.
In popular accounts of science, research is sometimes described as ‘earth shattering’, as if it creates something like a meteorite crater reshaping the landscape for ever. An example might be Frederick Sanger’s development of rapid DNA sequencing in the 1970s, which has transformed practices across any number of fields.
But there are other images to describe impact. Not all research has what the LSE research team looking at impact call an ‘auditable’ consequence. They comment that research applied in practice is “always routinized and simplified in use” so that over time, the impact fades like ripples in a pond.
The University of the Arts talks of its research as having creative outcomes that enhance cultural life and provides examples of artworks which create possibilities and shift perceptions: ideas which float into the air like dandelion seeds.
The impact of some research is apparent quickly – though almost never as rapidly as the tabloid newspapers which almost weekly trumpet miracle breakthroughs would have us believe – whereas in other cases it can take decades before the value of research becomes apparent.
Not only does the IOE itself undertake research which seeks to have an impact, it’s also interested in understanding what impact looks like, what it means and how it happens. At a recent conference we explored the linked questions of research impact and public engagement: the relationships between research, policy, practice and improvement, are things some of my colleagues try to understand.
The ESRC defines research impact as “the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy“. This suggests three components: the demonstrable nature of the contribution, the quality of the research, and the focus on both society and the economy. Successful impact means holding all three in creative relationship: without any of them, the other two are diminished. Research which is not excellent will not make a demonstrable contribution; research which sits unpublished and unread will not, whatever its methodological sophistication, make a demonstrable contribution and so on.
Understandings of impact – or of knowledge mobilisation and its dynamics – have been transformed over the last fifteen years, as the barriers to, and strategies for making creative use of research to impact more directly on people’s lives have become clearer and ways of engaging the public in the dynamics of research have developed. No research – however excellent – ever simply has an ‘impact’.
Richard Doll discovered that smoking caused lung cancer in the 1950s, but it took several years and active public health campaigns to change behaviour. In education, the gap between, say, research on assessment for learning (AfL) and AfL practice suggests that – like the idea of the droplet making ripples on a pond – the impact of research can quickly dissipate unless something active is done.
Research always needs mediating – or, to put it differently, research impact needs a plan. Academics used to talk about ‘dissemination’, but thinking has moved far beyond such models – “I research, you listen” – to more creative and nuanced understanding of the ways knowledge moves – and does not move – around organisations and society. We have learnt that while these relationships are complex, they can be managed effectively.
In the early days of work on research impact, thinking focused on ‘what works’, on the assumption that research could tell us what techniques have maximum effectiveness, and that this could in some way be taken to scale by more or less sophisticated dissemination techniques. We have become – individually, institutionally, collectively – more sophisticated than that, and we have done so quickly. We know that ‘how it works’ and ‘why it works’ are just as important and that the effort to link the worlds of research, policy and practice involve commitment and engagement from all parties. In Ontario, the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research tries to draw key groups together to enhance knowledge mobilisation. Bringing about change in practices is never easy, as anyone who has ever tried to lose weight, get fitter or learn a new language knows.
There’s a nice social enterprise quotation: “success does not matter. Impact does”. The IOE is a socially engaged university. We care about the quality of the research we undertake, and we make sure that it is of the highest quality. But we care equally about the way our research shapes the society it is seeking to understand. We understand that research evidence will always be only one of the factors that influences society, and that other factors always intervene. But we also know that progress has been made in the past in this field and more can be made in future with persistent effort.
For us, ‘impact’ is not an artefact of the 2014 REF, nor an obligatory hoop through which to jump. There is a wonderful line from the 2008 strategic plan for Carnegie Mellon University – and very, very few university strategic plans contain quotable lines. But in 2008 Carnegie Mellon got it right: “we measure excellence by the impact we have on making the world better”.